By: The Mesa Messenger Editorial Staff
With prevalent issues such as suicide and obesity in Mesa County, access, and visibility of public lands and parks are now more important than ever to build a stronger and healthier community.
According to the Mesa County Health Department’s “Healthy Mesa County 2015-2017, Community Health Needs Assessment,” Mesa County’s suicide rate is about double that of the national average. This places the rate of suicide in Mesa County at 22.7 per 100,000 people.
On top of these high numbers teenagers aged 15-19 attempt suicide at a much higher rate in Mesa County than anywhere else in Colorado according to the same report by the Mesa County Health Department. This has been an issue in Mesa County for many years. Although the rates of suicide have been dropping this is still a major problem in the Mesa County community.
Obesity has also been a problem that Mesa County has been facing. According to the “Healthy Mesa County 2015-2017 Community Health Need Assessment,” Colorado has the best rates for adult obesity in the country. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case as since 2000 the rates of obesity have been rising in Colorado. In Mesa County, the 57.9% of people above the age of 18 are obese or overweight according to the report by the Mesa County Health Department. Obesity can lead to many other health problems including diabetes, heart problems and can sometimes lead to a premature death. Obesity is a problem that can affect whole communities and their health.
Both suicide and obesity are problems that the Mesa County community faces. However, they are not unsolvable problems.
National parks and monuments surround Grand Junction and the whole Mesa County area. On average there are 245 sunny days a year in Grand Junction according to “bestplaces.net”. There are about 295 trails in the Grand Junction area. Hiking and being in nature is extremely good for one’s health and mental health. With all the opportunities for outside activity in Mesa County, we have the opportunity to build a strong and healthy community.
Yet in 2016 there were 391,075 visitors to the Colorado National Monument according to the National Parks Service website. This is almost 200,000 visitors less than in 2015 when 588,006 people visited.
The visitation rate of the Colorado National Monument should not be falling especially as Colorado Mesa University continues to grow its student population and more young people move into Mesa County to attend the university.
Many governmental departments help to fund and maintain both hiking trails and the national lands around Mesa County. These departments include Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Mesa County Health Department.
The Mesa County Health Department specifically focuses on making Mesa County a healthier and safer place to live. They host many events and run many programs that focused on health, suicide, food safety and other things that the department feels are affecting our community.
On their website, helthymesacounty.org, the health department does offer a list of all the hikes around Mesa County but otherwise, they do not focus on the outdoor activities that can be found around the area.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife do some community outreach through merchandise and handouts.
These two departments should be reaching out to the public and encouraging them to use the land that we have around Mesa County to be active. Public outreach is essential in making a change in the community. These departments and others who help fund our parks should make it a priority to encourage the public to get out and be active.
With the community facing problems with suicide and obesity encouraging activities such as hiking and biking and even snowshoeing in the winters, which have been shown to improve an individual’s physical and mental health, would be a fantastic step for these departments to make.